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Letter: To Woodbridge Parents and Teachers

Dear Woodbridge Parents and Teachers,

I am writing in response to a letter written by a parent at Beecher Road School, questioning the professional development which has been provided by staff developers connected to the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, Columbia University.  The questions raised relate especially to K-2 grades at Beecher, and so I thought, because I am currently the K-2 staff developer at that school, I’d answer directly.

First, I thank Michelle Cubanski for her vigilance on behalf of her child and all children.  She is right to want to be sure that teachers are teaching a balanced approach to reading and writing.  The only thing I take issue with is the claim that the organization I belong to doesn’t value phonics.  We strongly and explicitly suggest that every school adopt a phonics program, and we help schools analyze and address the strengths and limitations of the most popular phonics programs, and we coach teachers in using those programs.

Personally, I have a Master’s degree from Teachers College and a reading specialist license from a reading disabilities program at Fordham University.  At Fordham, I was fortunate enough to work with Dr. Joanna Uhry.  She is the author of Dyslexia:  Theory and Practice of Remedial Instruction.  Dr. Uhry researched in my first grade classroom and we worked as close partners while I was learning at Fordham.  Recently, I participated in a three day conference at Stanford University.  This was a think tank convened by the Carnegie Institute to discuss best practices in reading with the goal of having all kids meeting standard by the end of third grade.  This amazing gathering included some of the most influential leaders in K-3 literacy from across the nation, and my focal subgroup revolved around phonics.  Most recently, I am working with other colleagues at Teachers College to author a phonics program that is contracted to be published a year from now.

My point is not to toot my own horn but rather to communicate to any Woodbridge parent that yes, indeed, the TCRWP values phonics.  We value grammar as well and have authored books on that topic.  We also value teaching students the rigorous demanding skills that are required in today’s world.  We support kids learning to be avid, flexible readers and writers.

The TCRWP works in most of Woodbridge’s sister districts, including Westport, Darien, Scarsdale, Weston, Ridgefield, North Haven, Simsbury…and about 50 other Connecticut districts.  Many of CT’s highest scoring schools partner with the Project.  Most importantly, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project is a research-based organization, and our work is always informed by a critical study of our results and by input from the many teachers, schools leaders, researchers and parents who regularly ask probing questions and share suggestions with us.

I hope my reply helps to further inform this crucial conversation about best practices in literacy.  On a personal note, I have found the administration, teachers, and especially the students in Woodbridge to be thoughtful and committed to taking on literacy work that I believe will help them take on the world.  I have been so honored to work with everyone in the school district.

Sincerely,

Natalie Louis

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